General election: Conservatives outline domestic violence plans

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The Conservatives have pledged a new crackdown on the “hidden scandal” of domestic abuse if they win power.

They plan legislation to introduce tougher sentences for cases involving children, and a new watchdog to ensure proper support for victims nationwide.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd admitted there were areas where too many cases still went unreported.

Critics say that many refuges for victims of domestic abuse have closed since the Tories took power.

The charity Women’s Aid claims 17% of specialist women’s refuges had closed since 2010.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today, Ms Rudd said a new commissioner would be tasked with ensuring best practice on supporting victims of domestic violence was adopted across the country.

Under the Conservative proposals a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill would create an aggravated offence allowing harsher punishments for cases involving children.

There would also be a new statutory definition for domestic violence, which the Conservatives say would help provide clarity, and increase the chances of successful prosecution of perpetrators.

Although the number of reported cases domestic violence has fallen, estimates suggest only a fifth of victims come forward.

Ms Rudd said: “The fact is that across the country [standards] are varied, and part of [the reason for] this legislation and having a commissioner is to make sure that we raise standards everywhere, so that women get a good service, wherever they are.”

Ms Rudd defended the government’s record on domestic violence.

She said the Conservatives had introduced measures such as stalking protection orders, and Clare’s Law, a scheme allowing police to disclose to individuals details of their partners’ abusive pasts.

An extra £20m had also been made available last year to fund residential places for victims.

‘Action speak louder than words’

Sarah Green, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, welcomed the Conservative plans. She told Today the law around domestic violence was unclear, and there were often cases when police dealing with assault cases missed the underlying ongoing problem of domestic violence.

“This is a massive and endemic social problem. A new law and a new commissioner is not the whole answer. What we have got persistent disbelief of domestic violence victims by a range of services… there is systemic stuff that needs to happen, not just a simple altering of the law.”

“We hope for an end to women and children being forced to flee for their lives while perpetrators walk free and continue their coercive control through the family courts.”

Liberal Democrat election campaign spokeswoman Jo Swinson said: “Let us be clear actions speak louder than words and Conservative cuts to local authorities have meant that funding for domestic abuse services have suffered, with some services having to refuse referrals from victims due to a lack of capacity.”